Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Polling normalcy returns: Capt. Mainwaring is advised not to panic

Asides from Veepstakes, the dominant political discussion this week is on the state of Obama's polling - all the polls show a decline in Obama support, but I believe that has far more to do with the internal dynamics of the polls then a collapse in Obama support.

The biggest single change between the polls of last month and the polls of this month is the return of political normalcy to party identification in polling. Simply put, the party ID number is the breakdown given by pollsters the different proportions within their sample to be taken up by self described Democrats, Independents and Republicans. At the height of Obama's national popularity, the difference in party ID was in the realm of double digits. At the time, I believed this number to be false - too many Democrats, too few Republicans: the GOP brand was so damaged as to have affected the actual honesty of poll respondents on the issue of party identification.

In considering the recent 'change' the state of the race, the party ID number is highly informative. Take as an example this key poll that is currently helping to drive the media narrative of a "tightening of the race": the LA Times national poll shopwing Obama at 45% and McCain at 43%. The LA Times this week states that the party ID breakdown is as follows: Democrats:34, Independents: 29%, Republicans: 29%. The previous LA Times poll, conducted in June showed a party ID split of: D:39%, I:27%, R:22%. A similar change has occured across the range of polls.

Obama's position a month ago was considerably stronger in the polls thanks in large part to the great advantage he had from party ID. As normalcy has returned to politics the following has occrured: 'false' Democrats have gone back to describing themselves as Independents 'false' Independents have gone back to describing themselves as Republicans; 'silent' Republicans have regained their voice.

The McCain campaign deserves credit for reactivating the Republican party but in truth that is all that they have done. There are still more Democrats then Republicans and there may even be more Independents then Republicans. As such the old electoral maxim remains: elections are won and lost in the centre. As long as Obama can maintain party loyalty - or even increase it - amongst Democrats and hold his edge over McCain amongst genuine Independents, he still has the psephology of this election locked up.

For those who are still worried check out these excellent chicken-little inoculation shots:
- A Socratic dialogue on the state of the Obama campaign
- The advantages of Obama's perceived 'underdog' status

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